Disclaimer: I am an individual who does not speak for a group as a whole, whether that be an entire ethnic group, country, volunteer group, etc. The lack of more “traditional” research in the origins of babywearing means that a lot of information is shared through word of mouth, and education is through online groups and social media. If you do have resources to share with me, please don’t hesitate to message!
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all East Asian carriers. Please note that when I say “East Asian” here, I also include countries that are traditionally considered “Southeast Asian” as well. There are many I do not know the name for, so this post is necessarily incomplete.
Bei Dai/Meh Dai (背带)
Traditional Chinese carrier, with a name that literally means “back-carrying strap.” Possibly the most well-known of the East Asian style carriers is the Chinese carrier that has been called a “Mei Tai” for quite a while. The Bei Dai has a pliable rectangular body panel, with four straps attached at the corners. The two straps on the bottom are shorter and are used to tie the body panel around your waist, apron style. The longer straps at the top are used to wrap around you, to securely hold baby close to you. Sometimes the Chinese will refer to this carrier as the 四爪背带, Four Clawed Back-Carrying Strap. The pliability of the body panel means that the carrier can be scrunched down at the waist panel to fit a newborn being worn legs out. The body panel can also better mold to the baby’s body so that an infant insert is not needed to give baby’s back the proper support, unlike with a soft structured carrier. Additionally, the Bei Dai is versatile enough that it can be safely used for front carries, front facing out carries, hip carries, and back carries. The length of the straps means it can accommodate a wide variety of body shapes and sizes, making it an extremely flexible carrier. (Note: the traditional way of securing the Bei Dai is done without knots, so I have described the way the western world has been using the carrier)
Babyhawk, Catbird Baby, and Infantino all came out with variations of this traditional carrier. In the early days, there was some discussion about what to call this carrier, with some concerns that the English speaking audience would have trouble with the exact pronunciations and subtleties of the Mandarin and Cantonese languages. Mei Tai was settled on as a compromise between preserving the Chinese origins of the name while also being accessible to the western clientele. Overtime, the origins of the name because lost, and the name Mei Tai became almost a joke (with lots of confusion and references to “Mai Tais,” the alcoholic drink). Furthermore, a disturbing trend started appearing among manufacturers – that of making Mei Tai inspired carriers but with a mishmashed name – such as the Fidella FlyTai, the Kokadi TaiTai. This led the group, Asian Mom Support Network, to work on an information campaign for traditional East Asian carriers.
During the discussion for the education campaign, focus was given to the Mandarin and Cantonese languages, which are the two most commonly spoken languages in China. Bei Dai is the pinyin (phonetic spelling) of the Mandarin (official language of China) characters. Meh Dai is the phonetization of the Cantonese pronunciation.
Traditional carrier from Japan, whose name is derived from two components: “onbu” meaning “to carry piggyback” and “himo” which means “string” or “rope.” Pronounced “ON-boo-HE-moe.” Onbuhimo are growing in popularity in the US, and it seems every major company is coming out with their own. Generally speaking, it is a soft rectangular body panel from which two straps protrude. Only having two straps means there is no waist belt. There are at least two variables of the onbuhimo – the traditional and the buckle style. In the traditional style, there are rings at the bottom corners of the body panel, and straps coming out the top corners. The straps are passed through the rings and tied to be secure. In the buckle variation, the straps are connected to the top and bottom corners on the left and right sides (imagine backpack straps), with a buckle for adjustability.
Due to the lack of waist belt, the onbuhimo is recommended for older kids, who have strong trunk and neck control, and are not in danger of falling out. There are many ways to put a child in the carrier. One way is to pre-buckle or tie, then have the child step into the loops made by the straps, one leg on each side. Lift the carrier with the child in it up and put on like a backup. Adjust as needed, making sure you and the child are comfortable. This carrier is also a good option for those who do not like waist bands at the belly or pregnant people who want to avoid the bump.
It is considered rude and dismissive to refer to this carrier as the “onbu” as that is not its correct name. Doing so minimizes the impact of the originating culture of this carrier. Several companies have come up with variations of the name, such as “BuckleBu.” Luckily, this trend seems to be slowly reversing, in small part due to the infographics from the Asian Mom Support Network.
http://babywearing.co.jp/ is an incredible resource for more information on the onbuhimo.
Traditional carrier from Korea, pronounced “PO-day-ghee.” The podaegi comes in two variations – wide blanket and narrow blanket. Both have essentially the same structure – a large rectangular piece of fabric (much larger than the body panels of either the Bei Dai or the onbuhimo) with two long horizontal straps coming out on either side of the top edge. In Korean podaegi websites, this term is now commonly used for both traditional and newer, soft structured style carriers as well. The podaegi is a torso style carrier.
Dai Nyia/Daim Nyias
The traditional carrier of the Hmong people. It has a large rectangular panel of fabric with two long straps protruding from the top. Unlike the podaegi, this carrier is not for torso carrying.
The Dayak people of Borneo have their own cultural carrier, as seen here: http://sukubangsadayak.blogspot.com/2012/09/ba-baby-carriers-dayak-kenyah.html
If you have any questions about babywearing, we encourage you to contact us and/or come learn in person at one of our meetings! Check out our Instagram @BabywearingTwinCities and our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Babywearingtwincities/).
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